Read The Transformation of the World Online

Authors: Jrgen Osterhammel Patrick Camiller

The Transformation of the World (5 page)

BOOK: The Transformation of the World
4.97Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub


The archive was more important in the nineteenth century than in any previous one. In Europe it was the time when the state everywhere took possession of memory. State archives were established as central depositories for the records governments left behind; and with them arose the professions and social types of the archivist and the public records historian. The latter could now have access to the collections of earlier princes and republics in Venice or Vienna or Simancas, Spain. In countries with constitutional rule, the government took over the archival task as one of the attributes of sovereignty. In September 1790 the French National Assembly renamed its still-modest collection the “Archives Nationales”; revolutionary confiscations, especially of church property, soon increased its holdings. Napoleon conducted his archival policy in grand style: he wanted the Archives Nationales to become a central depository—“la mémoire de l'Europe”—and had large quantities of documents brought to Paris from Italy and Germany. In 1838 Britain created the legal basis for the Public Record Office, and in 1883 the legendary archives of the Vatican were made accessible for the first time.

The “new history” that took shape from the 1820s in the work of Leopold Ranke and his disciples, first in Germany, then in many other countries, saw closeness to the text as its guiding principle. The past was to be reconstructed out of (mostly unpublished) written sources; history was to become more scientific, more verifiable, and more critical in its attitude to received myths. At the same time, historians made themselves rather more independent of the archival policy of governments that controlled access to the sources in which they were interested. The systematic organization of record keeping also helped to shape a new kind of scholar. Learning was uncoupled from the individual capacity to memorize facts and figures, the “polyhistor” became a mocked curiosity, and humanities scholars followed the natural scientists in seeing the investigation of causes as their main imperative.

Archives were not, to be sure, a European invention, but nowhere else in the nineteenth century was there comparable interest in the preservation of documentary material. In China, the state had from early on monopolized the collection of handwritten material. There were few archives of nonstate institutions such as temples, monasteries, guilds, or clans. It was customary for a dynasty to destroy the records of its predecessor once the official history of it was complete. In 1921 the State Historical Museum in Beijing sold 60,000 kilograms of archive material to wastepaper dealers—only the intervention of the learned bibliophile Luo Zhenyu managed to save the collection, which is today kept at the Academia Sinica in Taiwan. Until the 1930s, official printed and handwritten material of the Qing Dynasty (1644–1911) was disposed of as trash. Despite a venerable tradition of historiography, there was still no archival awareness in nineteenth-century China. The documentation department of the Palace Museum, founded
in 1925, was the first institution that brought the rule-driven conservation ethos of a modern archive to bear upon the relics of the imperial era.

In the Ottoman Empire, where written records similarly contributed from an early date to the cohesion of a sprawling state, documents were produced and preserved on such a scale that research today can scarcely be imagined except as archive studies. Apart from the records of the sultan's court and the central government, tax registers and judicial proceedings (Kadi registers) are available from many parts of the empire.
Records, we conclude, were kept before the nineteenth century in Europe, the Ottoman Empire, and other parts of the world. Only during that period, however, did they begin to be systematically archived, safeguarded, and evaluated.


Libraries, understood as managed collections of the printed cultural heritage, are also treasuries of memory. The seventeenth and eighteenth centuries made the first great advances in this respect in Europe. Between 1690 and 1716, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, in his capacity as librarian, helped to place Duke August's magnificent collection in the small German town of Wolfenbüttel at the service of scholarship. Shortly afterward, the university in nearby Göttingen went a step further and for a time was reputed to possess the best-organized library in the world. The British Museum collection, initiated in 1753, was conceived from the outset as a national library; it incorporated the Royal Library in 1757 and was entitled to receive a copy of every book published in the United Kingdom. Antonio (later Sir Anthony) Panizzi, an Italian exile who joined the British Museum in 1831 and served as its chief librarian between 1856 and 1866, created the foundations of scientific librarianship: a systematic and comprehensive catalog, and a reading room organized to meet the needs of scholars, with a domed shape that made it the envy of the world.

As the century wore on, national libraries in keeping with the British model were built on every continent. In the United States, Canada, and Australia, they arose out of parliamentary libraries.
Some were linked to academic institutions. They tended the nation's memory for the respectable public and all serious students, but they also collected knowledge in general. The most prestigious became known for their universal reach, as they gathered knowledge from all countries and all ages. Important prerequisites for this mission were a book trade with worldwide business links and the selling of private libraries on the antiques market. Newly founded Oriental departments collected books in rare languages, sometimes sending out special emissaries to acquire them. Libraries symbolized a country's pretension to equal or superior cultural status. In 1800 the young American republic staked its claim with the founding of the Library of Congress, and by the early 1930s its vast holdings, the largest anywhere in the world, completed the cultural emancipation of the New World from the Old. Countries that achieved unification late in the day had a harder time. The Prussian
State Library did not gain national status before 1919, and Italy has never established a single, all-embracing national library.

Municipal libraries served a public eager for education and were a mark of civic pride. But not until after mid-century did it become both legally possible and politically acceptable that taxpayers should foot the bill. Private sponsors were more important in the United States than elsewhere. The New York Public Library, built up after 1895 with funds from a private foundation, became the most famous of the numerous municipal libraries that set their sights high. The libraries of the West turned into temples of knowledge; Panizzi's British Museum, which housed the national library, made this architecturally palpable in its monumental neoclassical facade. In the 1890s the rebuilt Library of Congress took over this symbolic language and accentuated it by means of wall paintings, mosaics, and statues. The gigantic stores of knowledge were both national and cosmopolitan. Exiles conspired inside them: the Chinese revolutionary Sun Yat-sen, who in 1896–97 was in London forging plans to overthrow the Qing Dynasty, worked at the same British Museum where Karl Marx had developed a scientific basis for his struggle against the capitalist system.

The library is not a monopoly product of the West, as a look far back into history reveals. The first imperial library was founded in the palace of the Han emperor Wudi (r. 141–87 BC), and it was there that scholars developed a classification system that remained in use for a long time. Chinese libraries had a precarious existence, however: the imperial collections of books and manuscripts were destroyed and built up again at least fourteen times between the second century BC and the nineteenth century. With the spread of xylography in the eleventh century, private academies (
), groups of scholars, and even individuals also developed large libraries. Details are known about more than five hundred collectors and their collections for the Qing period (1644–1911). The quantity of printed literature in private use was so great that the compilation of bibliographies became one of the scholar's principal tasks.
In China, then, libraries and catalogs were not a cultural import. What was of Western origin was the idea of a
library; the first opened in Changsha, the capital of the province of Hunan, in May 1905. The largest Chinese library today, the Beijing Library (
), was founded in 1909, opened its doors to the public in 1912 and acquired national library status in 1928. The modern library in China was not the unbroken continuation of an indigenous tradition. The twin conception of the library as a public educational space and as an instrument of learning came from the West and took active root in early twentieth-century China, at a time when the country was facing difficult external conditions.

In traditional Japan the state acted much less often as a collector of documents. For a long time, Japanese holdings were mainly concerned with China. The nonpublic libraries built up from the eighteenth century by the shoguns of the Tokugawa family were mainly antiquarian and sinological, and they did not attempt to include the growing numbers of books produced in Japan. As in China,
Western book collectors appeared on the scene soon after the country opened up to the West (1853). The huge collections of Chinese and Japanese material in Europe and the United States were the result of a rising Western interest coinciding with a temporary neglect of indigenous cultural traditions in Asia and a lowering of book prices. After 1866 the journalist and educator Fukuzawa Yukichi, who had traveled to the West on a diplomatic assignment in 1862, familiarized the Japanese with the idea of a public library. But even amid the new enthusiasm for modernization, it took until the end of the century for the research library and publicly oriented publishing to become the accepted models.

The Arab world was geographically closer to Europe but more distant in terms of the history of the book. China's long-standing use of xylographic text reproduction meant that the professions of calligrapher and copyist were less important there than in the Arab world, whose printing revolution did not take place until the early nineteenth century and which, until the early eighteenth century, had mainly relied on Christian Europe for the printing of books in Arabic and Turkish. Arab Christians and missionaries played a role alongside Muslims in the new industry. In the Ottoman Empire, there were private and semipublic libraries that also contained a number of European titles. But in the two centuries before the Turkish Republic switched to a Latin script, only twenty thousand books—many in very small editions—were published in the whole Ottoman and post-Ottoman territory. As a result of this small scale of publishing activity, public libraries developed there later and more slowly than in East Asia.


The museum, too, owes its still-vital role to the nineteenth century. Despite many pedagogical innovations, there is a tendency for museums to keep returning to the dispositions and agendas of the nineteenth century. The whole range with which we are familiar today developed during that time: from art collections to ethnographic departments to science and technology museums. The prince's collection, which had already been accessible to his subjects at times, became the public museum in the age of revolution.

art museum
united a number of elements: the idea of the autonomy of art, first formulated by Johann Joachim Winckelmann; the “value” of the artwork over and above its material craft character; and the “ideal of an aesthetic community” in which artists participated, along with experts, knowledgeable laymen, and, in the best case, a princely sponsor (such as King Ludwig I of Bavaria).
The museum flourished as the public grew increasingly differentiated. Soon it was even being asked whether art should belong to the state or the prince—a sensitive issue in the nineteenth century, since the French Revolution had set a radical precedent by nationalizing private art treasures and making it possible for the Louvre to become Europe's first public museum.

Things looked different in the United States, where it was mainly the munificence of the rich and superrich, in what Mark Twain called the “gilded age,” that
impelled the construction of museums from the 1870s on. Many of the buildings received joint public-private funding, but the actual works of art were mostly purchased by private individuals. America had few older works on its soil, and so its collections took shape in close symbiosis with the developing art market on both sides of the Atlantic. It was the same market that fed the creation of
collections in Europe.

The monumental style of the museum buildings (Alte Pinakothek in Munich, Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, Victoria and Albert in London) commanded ever greater attention in the cityscape. Since palaces were now rarely built in the cities, only opera houses, city halls, railway stations, and parliament buildings—for example, the neo-Gothic Houses of Parliament on the Thames (1836–52) or the parliament buildings in Budapest and Ottawa—could compete with the new museums. Nationalism, too, enlisted art for its cause. Many of the trophies that Napoleon had carried off to Paris were jubilantly repatriated after 1815—the Louvre lost roughly four-fifths of its holdings—and required prestigious places in their home countries for their display. Painters tackled historical subjects with a national resonance, and national galleries in many European countries are still adorned with huge canvases from the high point of this trend in the middle decades of the century.

The exterior and interior design of museums gave material form to an educational program that for the first time was in the hands of professionals—of art historians and learned curators. Connoisseurs had for centuries been devising such agendas for themselves and their circles in Europe, China, the Islamic world, and elsewhere: we need only think of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and his private collections of art and natural objects. Now the rise of experts turned the museum into a place for guided walks through art history. Credibility, authority, and expertise facilitated the elevation of museums to unprecedented heights of prestige.
State museums for
art, such as the Musée du Luxembourg in Paris, gave artists a further stimulus to earn public support and the fame that came with it. The museum did not only preserve and “museumize” objects, in the sense of separating art from life. It also presented something new.

BOOK: The Transformation of the World
4.97Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Other books

The Midwife by Jolina Petersheim
Wishes and Dreams by Lurlene McDaniel
Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor
After Hours by Rochelle Alers
Painting The Darkness by Robert Goddard
The Orphan's Tale by Shaughnessy, Anne
Inheritance by Lan Samantha Chang